Some of the first drones with advanced facial recognition capabilities are being developed by Israeli surveillance companies, as North-American police consider whether they will soon be adding the controversial technology to their unmanned flying machines.
As a sign of the imminent arrival of biometric identification from the air, an Israeli start-up previously-funded by Microsoft has patented technologies for drone-based facial recognition. Tel Aviv-based AnyVision filed a patent application detailing technology to help a drone find the best angles for a facial recognition shot, before trying to find a match for the target by referring to faces stored in a database.
The patent aims to iron out some of the complexities of identifying faces from a flying machine. Various obvious issues arise when trying to recognise someone from a drone: acquiring an angle at which a face can be properly captured and being able to get good-quality visuals whilst moving. Both are considerably harder than getting a match from static footage.
U.S. military agencies have been trying to come up with solutions, including the Advanced Tactical Facial Recognition at a Distance Technology project at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude and Range initiative.
But private industry may get there first. In December 2020, it was revealed AnyVision executives had partnered with an Israeli defence supplier for a new joint venture called SightX. In demos provided to Israeli media in late 2020, SightX’s small drones didn’t have any facial recognition capabilities, though executives said the feature was coming soon. It’s unclear if the tech is for the military only or if it will be sold to police agencies.
What is clear is that the technology is ready for launch. AnyVision CEO Avi Golan told Forbes that whilst AnyVision didn’t have any in-production drones with facial recognition, they would be a reality soon. He pointed to the fact that delivery drones would potentially require facial recognition to determine whether they’ve reached the correct buyer. Amazon has already patented similar tech, pointing to its potential plans for its experimental drone delivery fleet.
As for when North-Americans can expect police drones with facial recognition, even if police agencies aren’t immediately planning to send them to the skies, there’s an expectation they will arrive in one form or another.